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A force of Nature

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Martin Pritchard, Managing Director of Environs Kimberley, explains why this organisation is having a huge celebration in recognition of its 20 years fighting to protect the Kimberley. Environs Kimberley (EK) is the peak environmental body in the Kimberley and is a non-government organisation (NGO). Back in 1996 EK was established in order to protect the Fitzroy River from a proposal to dam it and a couple of its tributaries. This water was to be used to grow 200,000 hectares of GM cotton. The traditional owners were concerned that it would be very damaging to the environment and their cultural heritage. Three Broome people gathered around a kitchen table (one being renowned author Pat Lowe) and decided to support the traditional owners by setting up EK. 



Twenty years later EK is still trying to protect the Fitzroy. As there is no strong legislative protection for this National Heritage listed river it still faces huge threats from irrigated agriculture. The WA state government is pushing really hard for five million hectares of irrigated land in the West Kimberley.
In the wet season the Fitzroy becomes some 30km of floodplain from north to south of the river but the last two seasons have seen low rainfall showing that the Fitzroy is vulnerable to climate change. It is important to allow rivers to flood. One third of barramundi growth comes from the time they are in the floodplain so dams constrain the population levels of aquatic animals. Damming such a floodplain is typical of the mindset that rivers are right for plundering.
Above and below: two views of the flooding Fitzroy River during the wet season.


Kimberley groups organised a campaign against the Japanese company Inpex who wanted to build a gas plant on the remote Maret Islands A lot of people from Broome sailed up there and had a protest on one of their drill rigs. This scared Inpex into leaving the Maret Islands, setting up the gas processing hub in Darwin instead and piping the gas some 900km. EK acknowledge that they would not have had some of their major wins without the support of other organisations. One important conservation win was Woodside walking away from the James Price Point gas hub in 2013, EK having campaigned on that development since 2005. It was one of the most significant wins in Australia’s environmental history because it would have opened up the rest of the Kimberly to industrialisation. There is no doubt that some people in Broome would have gained financial benefits from James Price Point but from a number of different angles the community didn’t want it and in the state election of 2013 the candidate with the most votes (38% to 29%) was opposed to James Price Point. In some booths (like Broome Primary School) that candidate got 43% of the vote, proving the opposition to the gas was local and not ‘fly-in fly-out Greenies’ as some critics suggested. A month later Woodside pulled out of the project.


Another win has been the state government proposing to protect 20,000km of the Kimberley as National Park, the largest National Park in Australia. There are also 30,000 km of Marine Parks promised, accounting for some 60% of the Kimberley coast. EK is working to make sure those marine parks have the same kind of protection as the Great Barrier Reef and the Ningaloo Reef Marine Park, both of which have 30+% sanctuary areas. The Roebuck Bay Marine Park went out for public comment without a plan for a sanctuary and 17,000 people sent in submission calling for a sanctuary. There were 19,000 submissions on the Horizontal Falls proposal calling for more sanctuaries and 16,000 submissions calling for more sanctuaries at North Kimberley.


Above: Horizontal falls.
Government and industry are coming to realise that we all live in a democracy and they have to listen when large numbers of people protest, underscoring the fact that a social licence is incredibly important. There are still threats to the Kimberley. There is the threat from fracking in the Canning Basin which has more gas than the whole of the east coast of Australia. EK is pushing hard for a moratorium. 
Below: Potential and operational fracking sites in the Western Kimberley


There is also large scale land clearing that the state government is pursuing. EK also works closely with Aboriginal rangers on land management including areas such as weed control, feral animal control, biodiversity surveys and protecting threatened species. The Aboriginal rangers are a diversified group of people who have incredible knowledge of the land going back thousands of years. They also work on fire management as well as the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS), combining western science with traditional ecological knowledge.

A large ornithopod footprint, probably made by animal similar to Muttaburrasaurus.
Photo by Nigel Clarke
A new challenge will be the dinosaur footprints that stretch 80 km along the Kimberley coast and which date back 130 million years. Dr Steve Salisbury from the University of Queensland is about to release a paper that will put those footprints on the global map.
The Kimberley is one of the best places in the world to see dinosaur footprints, some of which are 1.7m in diameter.
EK has been working for 20 years and they are celebrating all the good things that have happened since then to protect the Kimberley environment. They are celebrating with some of the best music in the Kimberley. The Stephen Pigram Quartet will play at the Broome Pear Luggers on June 4th. Their music is a reflection of the melting pot that is Broome (Aboriginal, Malay, Filipino, Japanese and Chinese) and is unique.

Wilderness areas around the world are diminishing and EK has worked to make sure it doesn’t happen to the Kimberley. In that regard this NGO has proven to be a force of nature. EK is a membership based organisation and it relies on donations and philanthropic for its work in protecting the Kimberley. 
For more information go to http://www.environskimberley.org.au/support-environs-kimberley/ 

Martin Pritchard was interviewed for A Question of Balance by Ruby Vincent. All images unless otherwise stated were provided by Martin Pritchard. Summary text by Victor Barry, May 2016.

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Fitzroy River Fishway

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